New 2018 NH Repeal Bill has been Posted!

Great news! Today, Senate Bill 593, a bill to repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty statute, was posted on the NH General Court website. Better news: the bill has broad bipartisan support, with 13 senators already listed as co-sponsors. The full-cosponsor list (House and Senate) includes:

Sen. Avard, Dist 12; Sen. Daniels, Dist 11; Sen. Ward, Dist 8; Sen. Giuda, Dist 2; Sen. French, Dist 7; Sen. Woodburn, Dist 1; Sen. Watters, Dist 4; Sen. Fuller Clark, Dist 21; Sen. Feltes, Dist 15; Sen. Soucy, Dist 18; Sen. Hennessey, Dist 5; Sen. Kahn, Dist 10; Sen. Lasky, Dist 13; Rep. McGuire, Merr. 29; Rep. O’Leary, Hills. 13; Rep. Cushing, Rock. 21; Rep. Kotowski, Merr. 24; Rep. Souza, Hills. 43

The bill will start in the Senate with a hearing sometime over the next few weeks, then proceed to the House after Crossover Day in late March. We will keep you updated as to its progress and will be asking you to help us get this bill passed as you have in the past. Stay tuned!

Press Release

February 21, 2018

Bipartisan Senate Bill to Abolish the Death Penalty 

Statement from Barbara Keshen, Chair, NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty 

The New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NHCADP) welcomes the bipartisan Senate Bill 593 that would end capital punishment in the Granite State.  The bill’s list of bipartisan sponsors demonstrates that even in these divisive times, ending capital punishment is an issue that can promote unity and bipartisanship.  The NHCADP looks forward to working with Senator Avard and the other sponsors to pass SB 593 and affirm New Hampshire’s commitment to civil rights.

Granite Staters oppose the death penalty on moral, legal, and economic grounds.  We know there are less expensive and less arbitrary ways to keep our state safe than executing the few whom our criminal justice system arbitrarily sends to death row.  There is no justice in a system that is as arbitrarily and discriminatorily applied as capital punishment.

New Hampshire is the only state in New England that still allows for capital punishment, even though no one has been executed in the state since 1939. It is time for the Granite State to state in law what we have stated in practice by abolishing this archaic practice.

The NHCADP applauds Senator Avard for leading the charge in ending capital punishment, and calls upon all legislators to join together in a show of humanity and unity in abolishing this outdated and unjust practice.

Executing Grace: A Faithful Discussion About the Death Penalty with Shane Claiborne

Christian Activist and author, Shane Claiborne, will be coming to New Hampshire to speak about abolishing the death penalty, and his book, “Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us”. This event is sponsored by the New Hampshire Council of Churches and the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. For more information, go to www.nhchurches.org.

November 11, 2017

2pm:   Brookside Congregational Church, 2013 Elm St., Manchester, NH

7pm:   The Community Church of Durham, 17 Main St. Durham, NH

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Justice Gorsuch and the Death Penalty

Justice Neil Gorsuch being sworn in as the 113th Supreme Court Justice

How will the United States’ newest Supreme Court Justice affect new and ongoing death penalty cases? This is a good question, and one in which we have little information. However, what we do know does not bode well for capital murder defendents seeking relief from the highest court in the land.

The evening that Donald Trump announced Justice Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court, inauspiciously, a man was lying on a gurney being executed by the State of Missouri. Frustratingly, during Justice Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing, the subject of the death penalty was rarely discussed. This could be because of lack of interest among those on the Senate Judiciary Committee, or due to the lack of high profile death penalty cases  on which Gorsuch has ruled.

There are, however, indicators of how Gorsuch will respond to death penalty cases brought before the Court. Many people believe he will follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February of 2016. Gorsuch describes himself as a “textualist” or “originalist” who believes strongly in legal precedent. Scalia held the same views. According to the NAACP LDF “Report on the Civil Rights Record of Neil Gorsuch”, Gorsuch “…reveals a consistent opposition to granting relief in capital punishment cases.” The LDF describes the various ways Justice Gorsuch impedes access to justice, and states, “Winning federal habeas relief from any judge is a challenge. Winning federal habeas relief from Judge Gorsuch is a near impossibility.”

During his confirmation hearing, Senator Dick Durbin asked Gorsuch, “Have you ever written an opinion finding that a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel was violated?” Gorsuch answered affirmatively. In fact, he rarely, if ever, has. To be fair, Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, also, according to the ACLU, strictly applied the AEDPA (Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act) and rarely granted relief to defendants claiming ineffective assistance of counsel.

Clayton Lockett was scheduled to be executed by the State of Oklahoma in April, 2014. After approximately 16 attempts to insert a needle into Lockett’s veins, a doctor managed to finally insert one in his femoral artery near his groin, causing blood to spurt outward. When the first drug of three, the sedative Midazolam, was injected, the needle became dislodged from Mr. Lockett’s artery, causing that drug and those that followed to flow into his tissue. It took 43 minutes for Lockett to die after groaning, speaking, raising up and writhing in pain. In a civil suit filed by Lockett’s family stating that he had a right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, Justice Gorsuch as part of a panel opinion, called the brutal last few minutes of Clayton Lockett’s life an “innocent misadventure” and an “isolated mishap”.  Using these terms to describe the horrific and tortuous death of another person is revealing.

Clearly, those that oppose the death penalty had no friend in Justice Antonin Scalia. Unfortunately, his replacement will likely be just as unsympathetic to those looking to him for relief.

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NH House resoundingly says NO to death penalty expansion

House rejects HB 351, death penalty expansion bill, by 305-46 vote

Concord, NH – March 8, 2017

Today the NH House voted 305-46 to uphold the Criminal Justice Committee’s ITL (inexpedient to legislate) recommendation on HB 351, a bill to expand the death penalty by making “a person who knowingly causes the death of a child guilty of capital murder.”

Barbara Keshen, chair of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NHCADP), said, “We’re pleased that the NH House overwhelming agreed with the Criminal Justice Committee’s bipartisan recommendation to stop further expansion of NH’s death penalty statute.” Keshen was a state prosector and public defense attorney who handled over 100 murder cases. Representative Richard O’Leary, former Deputy Chief and 33-year veteran of Manchester Police Department, spoke in favor of the committee’s recommendation, citing no evidence for the deterrent value of the death penalty, and saying “it would not make our communities safer.” Representative Shannon Chandley, in her point-of-order questions, noted that the House had voted in favor of death penalty repeal in two recent sessions.

New Hampshire has only one person on death row and has not executed anyone since 1939.

Mike Farrell Inspires NH Abolitionists

The event was videotaped by Herb Moyer. Mike Farrell’s remarks begin at about the 30-minute mark.

Over 100 people showed up at Concord’s Audubon Center on Friday, March 3rd, 2017 to hear actor and death penalty activist Mike Farrell speak about his several decades of work in the areas of human rights and criminal justice reform. The event was organized by the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and a number of state sponsors.*

Mr. Farrell spoke in no uncertain terms about his perspective on the death penalty, calling it “brutalizing” for the culture that engages in such practice:

There is a sickness in the land, and it is the product of an unconscious process of brutalization set in motion by the degrading of human life, the rationalization and institutionalization of the taking of human life. It is corrupting the moral fabric of this nation and its people.

Mr. Farrell talked stridently about the many abuses and shortcomings of the US criminal justice system, calling it “stinking, maggot-infested mess” that is covered by “the death penalty as ‘the lid on the garbage can.’”

Referring often to the framers of the US Constitution and their guarantee of the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” — and in light of the once-accepted institutions of slavery and white-landowning-men-only voting rights — Farrell quoted Benjamin Franklin in making the argument that rethinking the death penalty is in order:

For when you assemble a Number of Men to have the Advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those Men all their Prejudices, their Passions, their Errors of Opinion, their local Interests, and their selfish Views.

Mr. Farrell finished his remarks with this:

Please consider four simple hypotheses: One – no matter how deeply it may have been buried, there is intrinsic value in every human being; Two – no one is only the worst thing she or he has ever done; Three – no matter the horror of the circumstance presented, there is always a reason for human behavior; and Four – state killing lowers the entire community to the level of its least member at his or her worst moment.

You can read Mike Farrell’s comments in their entirety here: Mike Farrell’s NH Talk 3.3.17 (PDF).

During the event, representatives of several New Hampshire newspapers were recipients the Coalition’s Governor Badger Award for their conspicuous editorializing in favor of death penalty repeal over the years. These were:

The award was named for NH Governor William Badger, who in 1834 gave a speech before the NH Legislature announcing his intention to end the death penalty.


*EVENT SPONSORS

Legislative Solutions
Robert Moser
Samdperil and Welsh, PLLC
Rep. Susan Almy
ACLU of New Hampshire
Green and Utter, P.A.
Gregory Smith, Esq.
Bill Glahn, Esq.
Mark Rouvalis, Esq.
Sherry and Gary Young

and

The NHCADP Board of Directors

House Criminal Justice Committee Rejects HB 351

House Criminal Justice Committee rejects HB 351, death penalty expansion bill, by 17-3 vote

Concord, NH – February 22, 2017

Today the NH House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 17-3 to recommend an ITL (inexpedient to legislate) motion on HB 351, a bill to expand the death penalty by making “a person who knowingly causes the death of a child guilty of capital murder.” The bill was sponsored by Rep. Werner Horn (R, Merrimack-2) and had the backing of the Republican Leadership. HB 351 will now proceed to the full House for consideration sometime in the next few weeks.

Barbara Keshen, chair of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NHCADP), said, “We’re pleased that the Criminal Justice Committee decided to halt further expansion of NH’s death penalty statute.” During Keshen’s public testimony on the bill, she said, “the death of any child is heartbreaking, but most child murders I saw [while a state prosecutor and defense attorney] were the result of overwhelmed or mentally unstable parents.” Keshen went on to say that “making the killing of a child a capital offense would have done nothing to prevent or deter those terrible tragedies.” She also shared the story of a near-wrongful conviction that could have sent an innocent person to death row in NH.

Devon Chaffee, Executive Director of ACLU-NH, said, “An overwhelming, bipartisan majority of the Committee rightly recommended that House should reject HB 351-FN.  The bill proposes a broad expansion of the death penalty in New Hampshire that is not only unnecessary, it would be exorbitantly expensive and risk wrongful executions in highly emotional cases.”

During the public hearing on HB 351 on February 7, death row exoneree Sabrina Butler Porter shared her story of spending almost 3 years on death row in Mississippi after her wrongful conviction in the death of her 9-month-old son. Porter told the committee that her case was overturned on appeal “when my new attorney also showed that my son died from a hereditary kidney condition.” Porter later told her story on NH Senator Kevin Avard’s (R, District 12) “Speak Up” cable show on Access Nashua, which can be found on YouTube.

New Hampshire has only one person on death row and has not executed anyone since 1939.

Report on HB 351 Hearing (w/ audio)

Concerns Voiced over HB 351, a Death Penalty Expansion Bill

Concord, NH – February 7, 2017
Today in the NH House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, witnesses testified on HB 351, a bill to expand the death penalty by making “a person who knowingly causes the death of a child guilty of capital murder.” (More information about the bill here.)

Among those speaking on the bill were: Greg Smith, former NH Attorney General; Sabrina Butler Porter, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the death of her 9-month-old son, and later exonerated; Robert Dunham of the national Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), and Barbara Keshen, former prosecutor with the state of NH and the chair of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

According to Dunham, an attorney and a nationally recognized expert on the death penalty, parents and others are often convicted of murdering children when in fact no crime has occurred at all. “In these heartbreaking cases,” Dunham told the committee, “parents who tragically lost their children to sickness or accident are then wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death based on faulty evidence and/or prosecutorial misconduct.” Dunham also spoke about how HB 351 would represent one of the broadest expansions of capital punishment in the US during a time when capital prosecutions and executions are at a 40-year low. (DPIC does not take a position on the death penalty per se, but offers information and statistics on its use across the US.)

Barbara Keshen argued that many child death cases she encountered as a prosecutor were related to mentally incompetent or overwhelmed parents. “In one case that I handled the mother who killed her son was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was sent to the Secure Psychiatric Unit,” said Keshen. “In a second case the father, who killed his two children, later killed himself in jail. Making the killing of a child a capital offense would have done nothing to prevent or deter those terrible tragedies.”

Death Row Exoneree Sabrina Butler Porter shared her story of having found her son unconscious and desperately trying CPR until he could be attended to by hospital staff. The prosecution claimed the resulting bruises were the cause of the death, and Butler described how the police forced a confession under extreme duress, leading to a death sentence. “My new attorney got a new trial and showed that my son died from a hereditary kidney condition. There was no murder at all.” In all, Butler spent 2 years and 9 months on death row.

Three people, including the bill sponsor, spoke in favor of the bill, while eight spoke against. The Criminal Justice Committee will discuss the bill in executive session sometime in the next few weeks.